We are beginning our NFL Top 100 series, in which NFL Analyst Charlie Bernstein ranks the Top 100 players in the league. There are no backup quarterback media darlings, punters, kickers or long-snappers in this list, just the most elite players for the 2012 season.
81. Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Dwayne Bowe is one of the most consistent targets in the NFL despite not playing with anything close to an elite quarterback. Bowe’s 1,000+ yards in 2011 is every bit as impressive as Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers, considering his situation.
82. Sean Lee, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
The phrase “nose for the ball” is often overused, but it certainly applies when talking about Sean Lee. In his first two seasons, Lee has forced seven turnovers while ascending toward Pro Bowl caliber in 2011. Sean Lee is certainly one of the bright spots of the Cowboys defense.
83. Corey Webster, Cornerback, New York Giants
With stud linemen such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora on the Super Bowl champs defense, it’s easy to forget about the best player on the back end, Corey Webster. Webster is one of the league’s better cover guys and has had 10 interceptions over the past two seasons.
84. Adrian Wilson, Safety, Arizona Cardinals
Adrian Wilson has been a great safety for many years without a lot of publicity. Wilson remains one of the most intimidating players on any football field and is still playing at a very high level at 32 years of age.
85. Marcel Dareus, Defensive Tackle, Buffalo Bills
The Bills could be the surprise team of 2012 as their defensive line is loaded, thanks to Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and last season’s first-round pick, Marcel Dareus. Dareus can play in any scheme and is able to pressure the quarterback from the defensive tackle position.
86. Troy Polamalu, Safety, Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu will enter the Hall of Fame five years after his playing days are over, but he is no longer the most dominant force on the football field. Injuries have slowed Polamalu to where quarterbacks are beginning to bait him with success. Make no mistake, Troy is still a big play guy but more risk comes with those big plays.
87. David Harris, Linebacker, New York Jets
It’s tough to imagine an underrated New York Jet, but if there is one it’s David Harris. Harris is one of the better linebackers in football as he’s all over the field with true sideline to sideline ability.
88. A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green had one of the best rookie seasons ever for a wide receiver as he looked comfortable from day one. As fellow rookie Andy Dalton improves, Green’s number will get better as he still had over 1,000 yards as a rookie, often facing rolled coverage.
89. Earl Thomas, Safety, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks haven’t regretted their first-round choice of Earl Thomas as he turned into a Pro Bowler in just his second season. Thomas cut down on his rookie mistakes from his first year to second, and could be one of the very best at his position in his third year.
90. Sean Weatherspoon, Linebacker, Atlanta Falcons
After playing sparingly as a rookie in 2010, Weatherspoon showed why the Falcons made him a first-round pick in 2011. Weatherspoon is already one of the best linebackers in football in pass coverage and can also be very effective in blitz packages. Weatherspoon will likely be the Falcons best defensive player in 2012.
To see the players from 91-100, click here.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie